The Day of Resurrection

The Day of Resurrection

Liturgy Lesson: April 18, 2021
Call to Worship: from Exodus 15 and Ps. 150
Prayer of Invocation
Hymn of Adoration: The Day of Resurrection (#267)
Confession of Sin
Assurance of Pardon: from 1 Peter 1:3-5 and Rev. 1:17-18
Hymn of Assurance: All Glory Be to Christ
Catechism/Congregational Prayers
Reading of the Word: Luke 24:1-12 (The Resurrection)
Sermon: Rev. Shiv Muthukumar
Tithes and Offerings
Supper: I Will Sing of My Redeemer; Alleluia! Alleluia! (#283, Ode to Joy)

By George Herbert(1633)

Rise heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Without delays,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise:
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more just.
Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The cross taught all wood to resound his name,
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.
Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
Pleasant and long:
Or since all music is but three parts vied
And multiplied;
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.
I got me flowers to straw thy way:
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.
The Sun arising in the East,
Though he give light, and th’East perfume;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.
Can there be any day but this,
Though many suns to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we miss:
There is but one, and that one ever.

We are now in Eastertide, the (roughly) seven-week liturgical celebration of the day when Jesus, the Lord of Life and Paschal Lamb, “ascended up on high and led captivity captive” (Eph. 4:8, kjv). It is good and right that the church hold the sustain pedal on the grand Resurrection chord. Let the sounds of triumph reverberate throughout the sanctuary and across the skies, at least until we arrive at Pentecost (which means “fifty days” after Easter). If Olympic athletes and world champions can enjoy weeks of parties and parades after their victories, then we should do that and much more to honor our champion Christ, whose conquest is eternal. Next year the Lombardi trophy, Stanley Cup, or Claret Jug will probably be in different hands. Gold Medals and Green Jackets will be hung on another winner. There is no such parity in heaven. Christ’s triumph over the grave was once and for all, an eternal victory! He is crowned King of kings and Lord of lords forever and ever and ever and ever. Why should we not stand and bask in the glow and warmth of the great Sunrise? The eternal day has begun. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the cosmic cry of “let there be light” all over again, and one that re-opens paradise for us all.

Can there be any day but this,
Though many suns to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we miss:
There is but one, and that one ever.

Yes, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the victory of victories, the death of death, and now our joy shall have no end! It is because of this reality that the historic church has commemorated the magnitude of Easter by giving it not just a day, but an entire liturgical season on the annual calendar. As such, our liturgy this week (and for the next several weeks) will continue to have explicit overtones of the seismic and symphonic blast of glory that sounded on Easter morning! Oh, did you hear it? It was the sin-shattering ultrasonic boom that struck at the tomb and is now rippling outward in shock waves across the cosmos. It conquers everything in its wake. There has never been, and never will be, a more grand and glorious beginning to a piece of music.

Considering all this, let’s turn now to a hymn that has been sung in honor of this “most high day” for about thirteen centuries, roughly two-thirds of the Christian church’s history.

The Day of Resurrection
Text: John of Damascus (est. 675-787 A.D.), translated John Mason Neale (1862)
Tune: LANCASHIRE, Henry Smart, c. 1835

The day of resurrection! Earth, tell it out abroad;
The Passover of gladness, the Passover of God.
From death to life eternal, from this world to the sky,
Our Christ hath brought us over with hymns of victory.

Our hearts be pure from evil, that we may see aright
The Lord in rays eternal of resurrection light;
And listening to his accents, may hear, so calm and plain,
His own “All hail!” and hearing, may raise the victor strain.

St. John Damascene, known also as John of Damascus, lived during the end of the 7th century and a good portion of the 8th. Most scholars agree that he lived to be well over 100 years of age. He was one of the most important hymnwriters of the Byzantine (Eastern) Church. He was well-educated in literature and philosophy and enjoyed great renown as the author of liturgical hymns in Constantinople, the seat of eastern Christianity. Tradition suggests that he was a monk at the St. Sabbas Monastery, known in Arabic as Mar Saba. This is a historically significant site overlooking the Kidron Valley, halfway between the Dead Sea and the Old City of Jerusalem. Seems as if St. John of Damascus was the right man in the right place. He was also born at the right time.

In the 8th century, the Christian church was facing a resurgent Islam that had conquered all of Persia and parts of the eastern Roman territory, including Palestine, Syria, and Egypt. Suddenly, parts of the Christian world were under Muslim rule. Throughout history, songs have always been a powerful identity marker of a people or a nation, and this is especially true of the Christian church. The historic Christian hymns are one of the hallmarks of a uniquely Christian culture. It is through the singing of her songs that the church preserves its doctrine. As one generation commends God’s works to another and declares His mighty acts in song (Ps. 145:4), the people of God faithfully preserve their story of salvation.

When Israel was about to enter the promised land, God warned Moses that his people would turn to idols after they entered Canaan. He then instructed Moses to teach the Israelites a song, so that “when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring)” (Deut. 31:21). Through the great hymns, the church can assert the timeless truths of the gospel and win back the hearts of her people.

It is with such a purpose that “The Day of Resurrection” was born. In the hymn, St. John gives us a compelling and beautiful depiction of the very centerpiece of Christian doctrine, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The hymn was originally written in Greek, and though something is always lost in translation, this one (even in the loosely rendered English) still explodes with Easter triumph! Traditionally in the Greek church, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection began at the stroke of midnight on Easter Sunday, with the lighting of candles, jubilant greetings, and the singing of this very hymn. The text bubbles over with jubilant shouts of exultation for the victory that Jesus Christ won over sin and death. If Easter is the ultimate celebration, then this hymn is the champagne.

John of Damascus was well-known for his long Greek hymns called “canons.” Each canon had nine parts called “odes,” and this hymn is the first ode from the canon for Easter, called the “Golden Canon” or “Queen of Canons.” John Mason Neale translated the three stanzas of this ode into English and published it in his Hymns of the Eastern Church in 1862. The standard text has three stanzas, though a few hymnals add a doxological stanza as a fourth.

The first stanza refers to the Passover account in Exodus 15, the famous “song of Moses,” which just so happens to be our Call to Worship this week. In the second verse of the hymn, we express a longing to see the resurrected Lord in all his brilliance, and a desire to hear the words from his lips that we might echo them. The third stanza is a rallying cry, a call for all creation to celebrate the risen Christ.

This hymn is most often sung to LANCASHIRE, which was written in 1835 by Henry T. Smart for the 300th anniversary of the Reformation in England. It was originally printed in leaflets with Reginald Heber’s text, “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains,” for the October 4 celebration service in Blackburn, Lancashire. Many years later, in 1867, Smart published it in his Psalms and Hymns for Divine Worship in London. LANCASHIRE is a strong, rhythmic tune that struts and swaggers with the confidence of a military general marching to face a weaker foe. Most of you may associate the melody with “Lead on, O King Eternal.”

Before we finish, I am compelled to highlight the final verse of this great hymn. I have absolutely fallen in love with this third stanza. Here’s that text again:

Now let the heav’ns be joyful, let earth her song begin;
Let the round world keep triumph, and all that is therein;
Invisible and visible, their notes let all things blend,
For Christ the Lord hath risen, our joy that hath no end.

This verse contains what I like to call an “immaculate assumption.” This is a poetic thought or idea that is not explicitly stated in scripture, but could be rightly assumed or inferred by biblical interpretation. The assumption that the hymnwriter makes is that our notes somehow blend with an invisible, heavenly song. It’s a beautiful thought, and I think he is right! Hebrews 12:22-23 suggests that through faith we are invited to an extravagant celebration already started in heaven, and that we join in praise with “innumerable angels” and “the assembly of the firstborn” and “the spirit of the righteous made perfect.” This means that the songs in heaven and those on earth are linked in mystic harmony. Just like a calm morning lake mirrors the sky, so, too, our songs reflect those above. I love imagining that I am cheered on by “a great cloud of witnesses,” those who have gone before, including all four of my grandparents (what a quartet that is!). Indeed, even though we on earth are but a faint echo in that cosmic antiphonal chorus, someday we shall be in perfect sync with the saints and Seraphim, heaven and earth resounding together in homophonic Hallelujahs!

It is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that makes all of this immutable music possible. George Herbert had it right when he compared the cross to a great sounding board. The book of Revelation testifies to the fact that Christ’s victory has unleashed the eternal song. The depiction of the scene around the Lamb’s throne is one of endless outpourings of the mellifluous, the melodious, and the miraculous. It is every terrestrial tribe joining the angelic choir, the Seraphim singing side by side with the saints. If our Sunday gatherings are indeed a foretaste of that blissful scene, then I wonder how often the angels have sung with us, for us, over us? Are they floating near the rafters, standing guard near the exits, sitting in the pews? I sometimes wonder if some have stealthily slid into our sanctuary during worship. Who knows, there may be one next to you while we sing this hymn on Sunday, carrying the bass notes one-thousand octaves down, a low rumble earthquake of sound that is only perceptible by the slightest tremor in your soul.

Sheet music